Madam Speaker, I rise to address the House on third and final reading of Bill C-60, the Pictou Landing Indian Band Agreement Act.
As the member of Parliament for Central Nova, on behalf of the Pictou Landing Micmac First Nations people in my riding, I thank hon. members for their support of this bill at second reading and in committee. I am certain that the more than 400 Pictou Landing Micmacs appreciate your support in helping to bring much awaited certainty to their lives.
This may appear to be a minor piece of legislation but it is very important to the First Nation concerned. Therefore it deserves quick passage through Parliament.
Bill C-60 is important for three reasons. First, the bill will ensure that claims by members of the First Nations related to the effluent treatment system at Boat Harbour are to be directed to a fund established for that purpose under the agreement. As a result it will protect both the Government of Canada and the Pictou Landing Micmac from further claims.
Second, Bill C-60 will ensure that the Pictou Landing Micmac are responsible for managing the settlement money that has been and will be paid out by the federal government.
Third, Bill C-60 will confirm that the Government of Canada intends to live up to its commitment to aboriginal people, including commitments made by previous governments.
Hon. members from all sides should recognize that the settlement agreement with the Pictou Landing Micmac is already well on its way to full and complete implementation. We are not being asked today to approve new arrangements, to make new commitments, or to break new ground. We are being asked to live up to outstanding commitments that have been made by the Government of Canada to the Pictou Landing Micmac of Nova Scotia. Living up to that commitment is very important, so important is it that this government put it in writing in an agreement.
In our red book we mapped out our intention to build new partnerships with aboriginal people. Today we are being asked to live up to that pledge, not just for the Pictou Landing Micmac but for all aboriginal people. Specifically, this bill asks us to take appropriate action to protect both the Government of Canada and the First Nation from further claims related to the Boat Harbour effluent treatment system.
Madam Speaker, let me tell you a little more about Boat Harbour back when. Imagine a picture with rolling hills dipping to the ocean, sandy beaches, boats drifting by with multitudes of fish in the ocean and majestic black cormorants nesting in
Pictou Harbour. I hope this image will bring you and my hon. colleagues closer to Pictou Landing and closer to the understanding of the importance of this bill, because in spite of this picture just painted this is not the Boat Harbour that exists today.
For more than two decades treated effluent from Scott Pulp and Paper Mill at Abercrombie Point has been released into Boat Harbour, less than half a kilometre from the Pictou Landing Micmac community. This has had a serious and negative impact on the environment and on the quality of life on the reserve and in the surrounding communities in Pictou County.
Now Boat Harbour is an industrial effluent treatment facility operated by the province of Nova Scotia. It serves the nearby Scott Maritimes Limited kraft paper mill. Boat Harbour is adjacent to Pictou Harbour, about 150 kilometres northeast of Halifax.
The Boat Harbour holding pond was created by blocking the entrance of a former tidal estuary to the Northumberland Strait. Boat Harbour is currently surrounded by provincial crown land and the reserve lands of the Pictou Landing Micmac.
It bears repeating the First Nation was not happy about this effluent treatment system when first approached in 1966. It agreed only after intense lobbying by Nova Scotia.
The damming of Boat Harbour permanently raised the level of the harbour and flooded approximately 12 hectares of reserve land. The harbour became devoid of oxygen almost immediately after the treatment facility commenced operation.
Over the ensuing 12 years the First Nation made a number of representations to the Government of Nova Scotia seeking compensation for damage to its land and for the flooding.
Although the province made improvements to the treatment facility, it ended negotiations with the First Nation in 1982 by refusing to recognize its claim. The Pictou Landing Micmac then entered the federal government's specific claims process. In 1986 the First Nation filed suit against the federal government alleging breach of fiduciary duty.
Boat Harbour has been lost as a source of food for the Micmac. For the past 25 years this First Nation has also had to forego hunting, wildlife harvesting and other benefits on some 12 hectares of flooded reserve land.
As a result of the federal government's fiduciary responsibility to the First Nation people the government reached an out of court settlement with the First Nation that has avoided a potentially lengthy and costly legal battle. Now it rests with this hon. House to bring this chapter in the government's relations with the Pictou Landing Micmac to a close. There should be no hesitation to do so by the hon. House.
As my hon. colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development pointed out at second reading, Bill C-60 is very straightforward.
The settlement agreement ratified by community members in a 141 to 25 vote in the summer of 1993 is a $35 million settlement which includes a $20 million compensation package; $8 million was earmarked to be distributed among the members of the First Nation for individual compensation. Much of this money has already been paid out; $9.725 million was placed in a continuing compensation fund to address special claims by members of the First Nation related to the Boat Harbour environmental problem; $2.275 million was allocated to support projects that would benefit the First Nation, including the building of a multi-purpose recreational centre and the establishment of a Pictou Landing economic development promotional package. This money is intended to compensate the members of the First Nation for general impact associated with the Boat Harbour facility.
The remaining $15 million in the settlement has been directed into a community development trust fund that will enable members of the First Nation to relocate if necessary. This fund is being administered by the First Nation and will ensure that the First Nation and its members will be able to protect themselves from any future health effects from Boat Harbour.
This bill accomplishes two basic objectives, both of which are in the interests of the First Nation, the federal government and the Canadian taxpayer. The first objective is to ensure that the $35 million settlement fund that has been agreed upon will be the full amount for which the Government of Canada will be liable related to the Boat Harbour effluent treatment system.
As the House has been previously informed, about 80 per cent of the settlement funds have already been transferred to the First Nation. In turn, the First Nation has paid out most of the $8 million earmarked for individual compensation to eligible members.
Any claims over and above this amount will be addressed through the $9.725 million continuing compensation fund. The Pictou Landing Micmac have also been using the $2.75 million allocated to the band compensation and development account to support projects that will benefit the entire community such as the building of a multi-purpose centre and the establishment of a Pictou Landing economic development promotional package.
These two initiatives and others pursued by the Pictou Landing Micmac will be of great benefit not only to the First Nation but to other residents of Pictou County.
Bill C-60 provides that any claims by the members of the First Nation that are not already settled by acceptance of the payments to individuals be directed to the continuing compensation fund. It will ensure that both the Government of Canada and the First Nation are protected from any such claims.
The second objective to be achieved by Bill C-60 is to stipulate that the moneys paid to the Pictou Landing Micmac under the final agreement will not be considered Indian moneys as defined by the Indian Act.
This benefits the federal government because it releases the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development from any responsibility for managing these moneys. In these times of fiscal restraint the department should avoid taking on administrative functions that can and should be performed by First Nations.
This provision of Bill C-60 benefits the First Nation because it will ensure that the Pictou Landing Micmac have complete control over their compensation dollars. This would not be possible if the moneys were considered Indian moneys as defined pursuant to the Indian Act.
This is one of the most important provisions of this bill. I have said this government is committed to fulfilling its obligations to aboriginal people. Beyond just fulfilling commitments, we want to build a new partnership, a partnership based on trust, mutual respect and participation in the decision making process.
This provision of Bill C-60 is a step toward making this goal a reality. Management of their own funds affords First Nations opportunities to chart their own course for economic development.
I am confident that my constituents, the Pictou Landing Micmac, like many First Nations across the country will prosper. The government recognizes that the untapped potential of aboriginal people is untapped for Canada. In a small way the development opportunities afforded by the provision of Bill C-60 open the door to potential.
The projects already borne from this settlement like the Pictou Landing economic development promotional package are just the beginning, a beginning not only for the First Nation but for other communities in Pictou County and in Nova Scotia as a whole.
Implementation of the Boat Harbour agreement has been proceeding well with no significant problems encountered by either party to the agreement. Nevertheless, the settlement agreement does require Canada to explore ways that might yield a solution to the environmental problem that now exists at Boat Harbour.
Toward this end several federal departments are facilitating and working with the Pictou Landing Micmac and other concerned parties to achieve the rehabilitation of Boat Harbour.
I want to advise hon. members in this House that the federal government is committed to ensuring that the clean-up of Boat Harbour meets Canada's high environmental standards. This proposed legislation will have no impact on this process.
As a party to the final agreement, the Pictou Landing Micmac have clearly indicated that they want and expect this legislation to be enacted.
To ensure that Bill C-60 meets with this understanding in the settlement agreement the First Nation was consulted during the drafting of the legislation. Members of the First Nation are now awaiting Parliament's decision. In making that decision I would ask my hon. colleagues to keep the crown's honour in mind.
I would ask them to remember that this legislation is the product of a clear and genuine commitment which was made at the request of the Pictou Landing Micmac more than a year ago. I would remind them that the government's word was accepted by the First Nation in good faith despite the problems it has endured over the past 25 years.
It is time to put the unfinished business behind us so that the First Nations and the federal government's energy can be devoted to building for the future rather than rectifying past mistakes. We can and must do so by giving our unanimous support to Bill C-60.
Therefore, as the member of Parliament for Central Nova I ask on behalf of my constituents, the Micmac First Nations people, for unanimous support from this honourable House for Bill C-60.